Columbus Cottonmouths hockey player Daniel Amesbury squared off against the Southern Professional Hockey League's toughest fighters during the past two seasons. But now Amesbury faces a bigger challenge in his native British Columbia.
Amesbury is charged with a number of offenses stemming from a massive riot in Vancouver on June 15, 2011, after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, 4-0 to the Boston Bruins. He is one of 353 facing more than 1,200 charges.
Amesbury, who turns 23 in November, is among a group of about 15 rioters accused of beating Good Samaritan Robert MacKay, who stood in front of Bay's department store's large plate glass windows to try to prevent looting.
Amesbury is charged with one count each of assault, participating in a riot, disguising his face with intent to commit a crime and breaking and entering, along with four counts of mischief.
His first court appearance is 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Vancouver Provincial Court.
He declined to comment on the charges against him.
Amesbury was charged by Crown counsel on July 17, more than two years after the riot. In British Columbia, Crown counsel lays charges after reviewing investigative reports. Charging decisions are made in accordance with the branch's charge assessment guidelines policy, which requires there be a substantial likelihood of a conviction and that the prosecution is in the public interest, according to British Columbia's Ministry of Justice website.
A native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Amesbury plans to attend Cottonmouths training camp, which opens on Oct. 13. However, crossing the border from Canada into the United States might prove to be difficult.
"Amesbury could be refused entry since he has been charged," said Constable Brian Montague, the Media Relations Officer for the Vancouver Police Department. "The U.S. border authorities make that decision. It could affect his travel into the United States."
Cottonmouths assistant general manager Ashley Foster assists the Canadian players in obtaining the proper visas, so that they can work in the United States.
"The players enter on a B2 visa, which is a visiting Visa, and then change their status when they get here," Foster said. "They can't work without a P1 visa, which is used by professional athletes. When they get to the border, they present our trial agreement. It's up to officials at the border whether or not to let them in if they have legal issues."
Amesbury was headed to camp with South Carolina of the ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League), but the Stingrays rescinded the invitation.
Cottonmouths coach and general manager Jerome Bechard then received a call from Amesbury.
"Danny told me that South Carolina was not willing to give him an opportunity, and he was running out of options to find a new team. My knowing him probably made us the best fit for him," Bechard said.
Bechard acknowledges the seriousness of the charges against Amesbury, but he is prepared to give him the opportunity to play hockey.
"We've all made mistakes and done stuff we've regretted," Bechard said. "If the charges are true, he'll have to face up to what he did. Last year, even before he went to Tulsa (CHL), I told him he needed to be a responsible citizen, work hard and do his job. He did that. I told him he had to stop drinking and he's done that, which is an indication that he's growing up. He's got a lot to prove to a lot of people."
Cottonmouths owner Wanda Amos left the decision up to Bechard, but she made her position clear.
"He will be on a short leash," Amos said. "He was young and stupid and made mistakes. He's matured since then. This is unacceptable in my organization and we won't put up with that. On the other hand, if we can help him become a better person, we want to do that. I have mixed feelings about it. He doesn't have three strikes. He does one thing here and he'll be gone."
Montague, media relations officer for the Vancouver Police Department, has been involved in the painstaking efforts to identify and locate hundreds of suspects in the aftermath of the chaos that ensued on the night of the riot.
"We knew right away that it was going to be a huge process," Montague said. "The day after the riot, we realized that it would be a pretty significant challenge due to the sheer volume of calls."
In addition to traditional contacts, investigators utilized social media. "We heard through Facebook, YouTube, video and photographs. There was so much evidence," Montague said.
To assist in this substantial undertaking, the Integrated Riot Investigation Team sought the assistance of Law Enforcement and Emergency Videos Agency at the University of Indianapolis. The Digital Media Video Processing Lab at the university doesn't routinely process information from individual cases but is pressed into service only in case of a wide-scale investigation or a national emergency.
"This is the only lab in North America capable of handling the sheer volume of information," Montague said. "It processed around 5,000 hours of digital evidence."
At its peak, IRIT had 70 staff members. It was a global effort, trying to identify and track down hundreds of suspects. "We had the assistance of Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom," Montague said.
The assault on MacKay involved multiple perpetrators, including Amesbury.
"There were 14-15 individuals charged," Montague said. "Amesbury was one of many involved in that assault. He was also involved in other incidents. He was active throughout the night."
At his court appearance on Oct. 18, Amesbury will have a couple of options.
"He could have a series of court appearances, depending on what he does. He could plead guilty or he could fight the charges," Montague said. "He has the right to a trial, which could take some time. It could be well into next year. There are a variety of sentencing options depending on the person's criminal history and what they did."
Alcohol played a key role in the rioting, he added.
"Average, regular, law-abiding persons thought they had anonymity in large crowds," Montague said.
"They thought they could break store fronts, set cars on fire, and break and enter. But that anonymity didn't protect them."
When the riots began, the crowd was estimated at 150,000 people. There were 43 assaults of varying degrees, some very serious, including stabbings. There were 299 identified criminal acts, including 89 businesses that were damaged and/or looted and 113 vehicles that were damaged. According to Vancouver Police Department figures, the estimate on damage and losses reached $3 million.